Apr 12, 2018

Vacational Plans

Source: Stormberry
Yesterday we had a holiday here, so my friend Lau and I went to a beach resort, a Double Tree. The story behind this is that some weeks ago I saw some really awesome pictures of Lau at a beach hotel, and I wanted to know where it was. Lau told me that she went there with some friends from the office, because one of the girls had a membership. Well, that sounded interesting, so I asked how can I become a member, and so the friend referred me to the program.

That was several weeks ago. I thought I was going to be called at once, but then they took forever to call me. When they finally did (maybe some two months after I was referred), it was by a phone call, and the representative offered me a Day Pass for any day... in the close future, which I had to decide on at that exact moment. This was last week. Out of the blue, I decided to go on the 11th, because it's a holiday.

Through the call they made me some questions, like if I had a certain type of credit card - apparently, the program can only be offered to people with that specific type of card - and it was stressed that I had to have that card on me when I go for the Day Pass. I would not be able to apply for it if I didn't have the card. The other odd thing was that they asked me about my marital status and whether I had children, and then, on and on this husband+children thing kept coming up, like the representative couldn't get behind the idea that I would choose not to have either. So, since I am single, they made told me that I could bing "someone" with me, and I noticed a slightly clipped tone in that "someone", like: "well, I guess you have no kids and no husband because you are a lesbian. That makes me feel uncomfortable, but you can bring your lady-friend with you, if you like". It was odd.

I then received a formal invitation via e-mail, in which I was invited with "my child". I called and asked to clarify, and asked whether it was ok for me to bring someone along, but that I have no children no husband. "Yes, sure..." and again the clipped, strange tone of voice about the potential romantic connection me and "Mystery Companion" could have.

Part of the deal was to agree to a 60 minute tour around the premises. Yeah, sure, why not? I knew they were going to try and sell me the membership, and I was originally going with the idea of signing in.

I will start by nothing that I had certain expectations about the Double Tree Resort. The place was nice, really, but certain aspects of it were a bit more on the cheap side or the "family value" side.

We were received with a bottle of water, offered beverages, and then started "The Program". We were brought to a waiting place with the look that many catalogue stores have for their agents. Bright colored furniture and glass tables so that the super-crowded place looks more spacious. High ceilings paired with jewel colored divisions to keep the visitor from noticing that there is actually no ceiling and that the light fixtures hang from unsightly cables. Then some general info was taken from me, and again, my relationship with Lau was asked. Really, you want to sell ME stuff, why in the fucking hell do you need to know what my relationship is to the person accompanying me? Unless you intend to use that person to pressure me into the purchase. I know, prospects with knowledge of marketing can be really annoying.

The first representative we talked to, was there to talk to us about the benefits and to take us around. She also made some questions about our preferences and so on (our, because the idea that I might be alone and enjoy the membership alone must be incomprehensible), and some cursory data on how much on average do we spend on holiday. The program was offering seven nights a year at that given hotel, which had to be spent in a whole week or "broken" into two portions, once taking saturday to wednesday, and then thursday to saturday, or any such combination, but not, like broken into two or three weekends. And no less than three nights. And she mentioned something quite obscure about some yearly increasing of 4%, which I understood it was the membership, and that I had to give in advance three potential weeks a year when I would like to take the week I requested. If I wanted to use the benefit in another hotel in the country, I had to pay "only" $176 or so for the "move", and if I wanted to use it in a hotel in another country, that would cost me "only" $350 or so.

Different room options were shown to me, and I had to decide which I would prefer. I had to pick one and if in the future I wanted or needed a different room, I would have to pay for the difference.

Then we went around the place, which was nice, though the big pools didn't convince me, and I found the gym too small and poorly equiped. We were then shown one room, that honestly looked more like a cabin than a hotel room. It had a kitchenet and a regular fridge. And the hallways were dark. Hell, it reminded me of the hotel room where I stayed with the girls in München, and that wasn't even München!

When we returned to the chatting place, where a second seller would take over to talk prices (prices disclosed at the end: sure sign of bad), I had already formed a cap amount in my head: being an All Inclusive hotel, if they had room service and mini-bar, I was willing to go for a $500 membership a year for a room with capability for four people. And I was being generous there. Then came the Price Guy, and things went out of the window. As it happens, they sold 15 year plans, with a cost of +$12 000. Oh, butu I was in the luck, because they could offer me a 12 year plan for only +$10 000. I only had to pay up front $2800 and the rest in monthly payments for a year or in two years.

Yeah, ain't no gonna happen. Price Guy went on wild on the numbers, making all sorts of warped calculations about how it was only $908 per year (in other words, $908,00 for seven nights in a concrete cabin, without the meals or the All Inclusive plan), which was as cheap as $48 per night (what kind of maths are you using son? Didn't you read your notes? Lau and I are economists: we know numbers and money. If the cost per year is $908, the cost per each of the allowed seven nights is $129,71), which was only $10,80 per night per person. And he went on and on about how it was impossible to find a room for $10 a night, unless it was a hostel "and I know you will never go to a hostel". What was making him believe that I would go penny-counting and charging my guests for their stay? Price per person, per night is a nasty way of selling a room. And for a client that "doesn't stay at hostels" such a parsimonious calculations are futile in the gentler of cases, and insulting in the worse. Not to mention that in the end, what will be paid is that up front amount, those montly payments, and all the extras so carefully kept from the eye of the client, such as the actual meal plans and other comissions and fees... and whatever that fee might be that was mentioned in the passing, and which increases 4% per year. No, I have not lost that from sight.

When I told him that I don't like commitment and I definitively don't like the idea of the up front payment, he went a bit pety, commenting how much I would pay for my other vacations in fifteen years, so this was not that much.

"Yeah," I said "but I'll pay those vacations as they come, from the same account and the same salary from which I would pay this. Those I can decide when and were to take them, and those are more prioritary to me than this, which would be just for whenever I feel like it - a weekend getaway - so it makes no sense to me to make such a commitment on this place."

Price Guy actually tried to use Lau against me, how I could sell Lau or my other friends those days, and so on, and when I insisted in my refusal, he went nasty.

"Is it because of the money?"
"It's because of the commitment," I told him.

He tried to find me a suitable plan, but all had the same component: the up front payment. Really, didn't he get it? I don't want to up front pay anything.

In the end they worked on us for over two hours (not the 60 minutes) and got nowhere with us. Frustration was evident on them, with the first representative didn't even bothering in saying goodbye when parting. 

So here is what I think:

1. These Vacational Plans might be designed with families in mind. Maybe it could work for a family that likes to go on regular, yearly vacations with the kids to the exact same places, and have this routine settled. For them one big expenditure now to ensure the future vacations for until the kids are off to college might make sense. Some familes do like this type of solution because then they can manage their family lives in a more orderly fashion, and reduce their budget issues, logistic plannings for the foreseeable future. If a family has the means, a plan like this can ensure a place kids can look forward to go on their summer vacations, and parents get the assurance of staying on a well known place, where kids won't get lost.

From families I know, I have seen these sort of dynamics going on: Christmas vacations spent with these grandparents, mid year vacations spent with the other grandparents, a week or two at some usual family friendly resort they know well. And this goes on and on and on for years. They might yearly meet with the same other families, kids may form vacation-friends or summer-friends, and all is good.

For single people who like freedom and have the means to pay for their vacations (and for such a plan they NEED to have means), it makes no sense. If you are like me, probably the previous description of family vacations sounds like the surest and shortest way for insanity. I would go crazy in such a restricted scheme, and I am the one that ALWAYS goes to the same places for vacations. The difference for me is that I choose when I go to those places, and I have the freedom to choose not to go there. Yes, I always seek to go to Paris, and I always stay at the same hotel, and visit the same street, but I'm not committed to it. If in my next trip I decide to fligh through... Frankfurt and spend a night there, I can. I will not lose my money for the trip I didn't take that time to Paris. Even though I highly doubt it that I would willingly give up Paris, this option is open. Paris does not hold me by a contract. I have not committed myself to visiting Paris yearly for an given amount of days, prepaid, and if I don't use them, I lose them.

When evaluating this options, one must really consider one's real needs and expectations.

2. Something the representatives didn't have in mind, is that I have experience in some higher end hotels, most recently with the mind blowing Hard Rock Hotel Megapolis (Panama City). However, I have had the chance to stay also at five star hotels and in the past years I prefer to stay at four star hotels of big hotel chains, such as Barceló and Accor. I know the average range of prices for those hotels and the quality I can expect from them. In my experience, the price ultimately offered for the hotel rooms a that Double Tree - which is the budget branch of the Hilton Hotels - is way to high for what you get. I can easily name three hotels in that same area (more or less close) with lower prices that either offer the same experience, similar to a bit lower experience, or a much better experience and with a far better ocean view and beach.

Now, why is this important? Because sometimes representatives try to make you believe that you are being offered a real treat, a deal you can't afford to lose. If they are doing their best to sweeten the deal by purposefully withholding information on the price at the begining and making sure to fill your eyes with stars before, it is not a deal.

It took them two months to contact me, two moths during which I assumed they had let loose Cambridge Analytics, and they had read all my tripAdvisor reviews and seen all my pictures from all of my vacations. They didn't, which is why they tried to sell me a three star option, with some building parts worthy of a two star hotel, at higher end five star hotel prices. When you expect me to sleep in a two bed room and cook my own food in the kitchenet that's located IN the room, for around $130 a night, and precisely $908 per year for seven consecutive nights, you don't know the client you are dealing with.

3. One thing to notice when being recruited for plans like this, is who is really making the plan. As I was paying attention to their speech, I noticed that - though they were not up front with it - I was not dealing with the Hilton Hotel Chain itself, but with a Vacational Club Agency called Interval International. At no point during the promotion was I made aware of this, or about what would happen with my plan if this one hotel for which I was supposed to make the plan would cease to exist for whatever reason: the company terminates their contract with Interval International, or the hotel is closed or sold to another company with which Interval International has no contract, or if the hotel changes its category and no longer offers the same facilities.

4. Watch out about the maths. If you are not very versed in the hotel booking thing, you might not notice that oftentimes the price of the room is quite fixed. The difference between what you pay for a room for one and a room for two isn't directly proportional to the number of people occupying the room. In most of my searches, I have found that most hotels charge the exact same amount per night whether you book the room for one or two people. Clearly, with larger numbers the prices will raise because the size of the room and the expectation of use of amenities, plus the number of equipment goes up, but in general, the number of people would not impact the price of the room so dramatically. So is the price per night. A large end bill can be sold like a bargain when you dilute the amount into these tiny component, but in the end, even if you have a tiny price per person per night, you will have to pay the room for the number of days you stayed in it.

This sort of maths might come into account when you are traveling with friends, on a budget and everybody is pinching in. It might not be the case when you are traveling alone or with family, specially with kids, and it is much more dubious when you are planning your vacations for the next fifteen years. You can't be sure you will always have the full occupancy, or that everybody will pinch in. So, whenever someone goes on breaking the amount into such "perspectives", think about the actual amount you will have to end up belting out at the given moment. Price per night per person isn't the price you will end up paying. The amount you would pay in total for the next fifteen years isn't the amount you will end up paying. You will pay the up front downpayment. You will pretty much assume a loan-like payment plan for vacations with given conditions. There will be a monthly or yearly deduction of your account whether you are taking vacations or not, that you will have to count with.

Don't let warped maths get in the way of your wallet. Don't let them drag you into that. Let them talk but don't pay attention to their calculations: keep in mind the numbers you know about what you are supposed to pay.

It is alright to take a vacational plan, and it's fine if the Double Tree has what you want and what you need, and if the price is ok for you: that's fine, but before you sign for it,  make sure you know well what it is you are signing for. My final recommendation is to always stay clear from deals in which they are not willing to give you the price at once, those where the representative or seller tries from the begining to empathize with you (those friendly comments where they try to show you two have something in common and repeatedly try to reinforce it), and particularly those where they do not want to give you time to think: if they try to push you to spend now, say yes now, it's not a good deal. Think always that there is a reason why they don't want you to think it over. If it were such a good deal, then the more you think of it the more you would like it, right?

No comments: